The issues affecting heirs and beneficiaries are no less significant than those affecting testators and grantors, yet the answers to their most important questions are often hard to find. This page provides information on the most common issues of concern to heirs and beneficiaries.
1. For information about who inherits property if the deceased person did not have a will, also known as dying intestate, see dying without a will.
2. If you have questions about inheritance, such as how to determine your basis in inherited property and what happens if you do not claim your inheritance, see inheritances.
3. If you wish to dispute a decedent's will or living trust and want to know what constitutes grounds to challenge a testamentary document or how to file a will contest, see will and trust disputes. For information on grounds for contesting a will, such as undue influence, see contesting a will.
4. If you are adopted and want to know your inheritance rights with regard to your adoptive parents and your biological parents, see adopted children.
5. If your parents were not married when you were born and you want to know your inheritance rights under the laws of intestate succession, see nonmarital children.
6. For information on whether inheritance tax may be due on property or other assets you inherit, including applicable state laws, see inheritance tax.
7. When you inherit an IRA, there are several important rules that apply. For information on what to do when you inherit an individual retirement account, see inherited IRAs.
8. During trust administration, beneficiaries are generally entitled to receive certain types of information about the trust, such as how trust assets are being managed and what fees and expenses are being paid by the trustee. For information on the type of information the trustee must provide, see trust accounting.
9. If you are concerned about what types of taxes are due and who is responsible to pay taxes when you inherit property from an estate or trust, see tax returns due.
10. Spouses have certain inheritance rights under the law. To learn about the rights of a spouse as heir, see spousal share.
11. Unpaid loans owed by heirs and beneficiaries must be dealt with at the time of estate or trust administration. If you received a loan from the deceased that is outstanding, see debts owed to deceased.
12. If you are concerned that friends, neighbors, caregivers or relatives may be trying to take money or property from your parents, there are steps you can take to protect your parents and your inheritance. See inheritance theft and accidental disinheritance.
13. If one of your parents has died and you want to know whether the surviving spouse is required to honor your deceased parent's will, see deceased parents will. 14. If your spouse, partner or parent has passed away, you may want to learn about your eligibility for government benefits. To learn more, see Social Security benefits.
15. If you inherited guns or firearm accessories from an estate, there are several important steps you should take as soon as possible. Find out what to do if you
Inherited Guns From An Estate.
Advice for Heirs and Beneficiaries
There are many sources of estate planning information for people who want to make a will, avoid probate or reduce estate taxes. But what if you are an heir to a deceased person's estate or the beneficiary of a trust? Heirs and beneficiaries view estate planning, probate, and trust administration from an entirely different perspective. For most people, receiving an inheritance is not a positive experience. It usually accompanies the loss of someone very important to you and you may be grief stricken.
If you inherit a substantial amount of money or property, it may be best to avoid making any major decisions about what to do with your inheritance until you have done a lot of research and received professional financial advice. A good starting point is to consult a financial planner.
Inheritances are a common source of animosity among siblings or members of a stepfamily. See
greedy siblings. Heirs and beneficiaries often have to deal with costly legal issues or hire an attorney. At the very least, inherited property may create tax issues or financial planning concerns.
Debts of Deceased Parents
For many heirs, there is no inheritance or financial windfall that will come your way. Instead, you may be faced with the many bills your parents left behind. Unfortunately, as people live longer and the costs of nursing home care continue to rise, more heirs than ever before are being faced with the debts of their parents. See Parents Nursing Home Bills.
After your parent dies, the first issue you may have to deal with is paying funeral expenses. But what if you cannot afford to pay for your parent's burial or cremation? Are you responsible for these costs? What about your parent's credit card bills or final medical expenses? If your parents require nursing home care, can you be held liable if they run out of money? These are all issues you may have to confront when your parents die. To learn about your rights and steps you can take if you are contacted about the debts of your deceased parents, see our section on debts of deceased.
Will You Be Disinherited?
One of the most painful experiences an adult child can have is learning they have been disinherited. It can also be very hurtful to learn your parents distributed their estate in unequal shares by leaving a larger inheritance to your siblings or other beneficiaries and a much smaller inheritance to you.
If you think this cannot happen to you, you should read more about how disinheritance occurs. In some cases, children are disinherited somewhat unintentionally, as the parents make loans or give gifts to others while overlooking one or more of their children.
For tips on how to stop inheritance theft and what you can do if this is happening in your family, read our article disinherited by parent.
Community Property and Inheritance
If you are about to receive an inheritance and live in a community property state, you may be wondering whether your spouse has a right to part of your inheritance or whether you can keep the entire inheritance as your own separate property. For information on whether community property laws apply to inherited property, go to
Do I Have a Right to Information About Decedent's Living Trust?
If you are the child, grandchild, sibling or other heir to a deceased person's estate, you may have questions about how to get information about administration of the estate. If the decedent had a living trust, different rules apply than if the person left an estate that will be subject to probate. To find out what type of information an heir can obtain about a decedent's trust, see who has a right to information about trust.